A Brooklyn family on how Prospect Park helped them endure the pandemic.
By Lisa W. Foderaro | Photographs by Tara Rice
Published May 18, 2021
If you think sheltering in place during the worst of COVID-19 was difficult, you should try it with a one-year-old. So say Jen Nelson and Kristin Sedivec, who live in Brooklyn with their son, Charlie. Charlie’s first birthday was March 4, 2020, and as winter turned to spring, the family was looking forward to his first steps. Nelson and Sedivec had big plans to bring him to Prospect Park, a 10-minute walk from their apartment, so he could run across meadows and spot painted turtles.
Two weeks later, as the extent of New York City’s outbreak became horribly clear, the governor ordered all nonessential services to close and urged New Yorkers to mask up. But because Charlie was too young to wear a mask, Nelson and Sedivec holed up for two months instead, unsure whether it was even safe to venture outside.
“We were definitely on lockdown in our apartment from the middle of March until May,” said Sedivec, a bookkeeper. Nelson, a nanny, massage therapist, and doula, explained that their concern was as much for others as themselves. “We felt Charlie was not protected,” she said, “but he also could have been asymptomatic and exposing people in our building. We started to get really, really pent up.”
On Mother’s Day, in an act of desperation, they rented a car, wiped down every inch of it in Clorox, and drove to Westchester County, just north of the city. There, they visited Croton Point Park, a 508-acre peninsula that juts into the Hudson River. Charlie had indeed taken his first step in the early weeks of quarantine, a moment his moms say was one of the bright spots in an otherwise terrifying time. But the trip north yielded another long-awaited milestone. “That was the first time Charlie ever walked on grass,” Sedivec recalled.
As spring turned to summer, COVID-19 cases fell in New York City, making it safer to venture outside. Prospect Park beckoned, and the three went almost every day, making up for their long months of indoor isolation. First thing in the morning, they’d head to the Nethermead, a large meadow in the heart of the 526-acre park, which boasts waterfalls, woodlands, bridle paths, and stone arches.
“We would always set up our blanket under the same tree and there was a stump or log there so he had things to climb,” Sedivec said. “He could run as far as he could run and he still wasn’t close to being within 20 feet of people.” Later in the day, the meadow would fill with other people seeking a patch of sun or a relatively safe way to hang out with friends and loved ones. But in the quiet hours of the early morning, the family cherished the sense of solitude.
“It felt like we had an acre to ourselves,” Sedivec said—something especially precious for people living in the nation’s densest metropolis.
Still, the pandemic took its toll. It wasn’t only the anxiety surrounding the disease. It was also the interruption of the rhythms of their life together.
Nelson’s solution? Watching the sunrise in Coney Island most days of the week last summer. She’d catch the first Q train of the morning and ride it twenty minutes south. At that hour, Coney Island’s famous amusement park and boardwalk evinced an eerie stillness—and beauty. “I would watch the sun rise on the beach because it was the only thing that helped me stay out of my head,” she remembered. “Things were just really gloomy and nature definitely played a huge part in bringing me out of my fog.”
The family says they’ve survived the long months of the pandemic by sticking together and by savoring deep-green vistas, the scent of wet leaves on a spring breeze, the crash of waves at daybreak. “Parkland,” Nelson said, “was a saving grace.”
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